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Answering the question: 'What is marriage?' Print
Guest column
Thursday, Aug. 04, 2016 -- 12:00 AM
Veronica Arntz

Marriage and family are clearly under attack in many forms in our secular society.

Thus, as Catholics, we must clearly understand the Church's teaching on marriage and family.

Yet, even in the Church, there is disagreement surrounding marriage and family (including how to help the divorced and remarried), especially since the publication of Pope Francis's post-synodal apostolic exhortation, Amoris Laetitia.

In this four-part series discussing Amoris Laetitia, I hope to establish a clear understanding of marriage and family in the first and second parts.

In the third and fourth parts, I will clarify some confusion over the nature of the divorced and remarried and the reception of Communion, looking at the document itself.

Defining marriage

Canon 1055 and the Catechism of the Catholic Church 1601 gives the following definition of marriage: "The matrimonial covenant, by which a man and a woman establish between themselves a partnership of the whole of life and which is ordered by its nature to the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring, has been raised by Christ the Lord to the dignity of a sacrament between the baptized."

First, marriage is a covenant between one man and one woman, established by God from the beginning.

Because there was not a fit partner for Adam among the animals, God created Eve from his side, of whom Adam then proclaimed, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man" (Genesis 2:23).

Thus, the man and woman were made for each other by God to live as a communion of persons.

Partnership for life

This partnership between the man and the woman is for life -- totius vitae consortium, in the Latin.

Because Adam and Eve were created for each other, "a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh" (Genesis 2:24).

If the two become one flesh, then their lives are inseparable, as our Lord explains to the Pharisees when reestablishing indissolubility: "For your hardness of heart, Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so" (Matthew 19:8).

From the beginning of creation, the union of man and woman, which is a covenant, was designed to be indissoluble.

Much like the covenant between God and man, which is permanent, regardless of our sins, so too is the covenant ratified between man and woman indissoluble, until the death of one of the spouses.

For the good of the spouses

As Canon 1055 (cf. CCC 1601) further explains, this union by its nature is for the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of children.

As St. John Paul II described in a 2001 address to the Roman Rota, "The ordering to the natural ends of marriage -- the good of the spouses and the procreation and education of offspring -- is intrinsically present in masculinity and femininity" (5).

God, therefore, has written this teleological character of marriage into the natures of men and women: it is good for the man and the woman to be together.

God also gives them the specific command, "Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it" (Genesis 1:28).

The marriage between the man and woman, then, is not only designed for the good of the spouses but also for the procreation of children.

Marriage as a sacrament

Finally, Canon 1055 (cf. 1601) speaks of how Christ has raised marriage to the dignity of a sacrament for the baptized when he reestablished the law of indissolubility (as cited above).

Furthermore, our Lord says, "What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder" (Matthew 19:6). The reason that Christ raised marriage to the level of a sacrament for the baptized is explained in St. John Paul II's Familiaris Consortio.

"Spouses are therefore the permanent reminder to the Church of what happened on the Cross; they are for one another and for the children witness to the salvation in which the sacrament makes them sharers" (FC, art. 13).

Thus, marriage as a sacrament takes part in the Sacrament, the gift of the Eucharist.

In the next part, we shall look into the Church's teaching on marriage in light of family life.


Veronica Arntz graduated from Wyoming Catholic College in May 2016 and is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Theology degree from the Augustine Institute, Denver, Colo.